THE Marriages Bill sailed through the National Assembly on Thursday last week after extensive debate by MPs who felt that chiefs should be given powers to solemnise civil marriages saying clause 9 of the Bill was denying chiefs those powers.
Clause 9 of the Bill reads: “Any chief (1) by virtue of his or her office and so long as he or she holds such office, may be designated as a marriage officer in customary law marriages for the district in which he or she holds office by the minister at the request of such chief in accordance with such conditions as the minister may prescribe; (2) the registrar shall keep a register in the prescribed manner of all chiefs designated by the minister as marriage officers in terms of this section.”
Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said chiefs that shall be deemed suitable to be marriage officers and solemnise civil marriages shall be those that satisfy set requirements.
But MPs felt that chiefs should be given powers to solemnise civil marriages just like pastors.
“Chiefs have always been marriage officers, but the mere fact that you are not saying they are only good enough for traditional or customary marriage, you are creating a difference between civil and traditional marriages. If there are certain requirements around the civil marriage that you think chiefs have no capacity to do, then indicate what it is that is needed to capacitate them,” MDC legislator Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga (MDC-T) said.
She said rural women should be able to access marriage officers within their communities and by not making chiefs marriage officers, it means that rural people will be confined to customary marriages conducted by chiefs yet they want civil marriages.
Norton MP Temba Mliswa (Independent) said chiefs were recognised by Zimbabwe’s Constitution and, therefore, should be given powers to solemnise marriages.
“There is now unnecessary discrimination. Why are we now choosing that chiefs must not be involved in this? Our ancestors will be angry with us and they are already angry with a lot of things,” he said.
Gutu South MP Pupurai Togarepi (Zanu PF) said some people subscribe to traditional religions and, therefore, might not want to be forced to get a civil marriage from church.
“Otherwise most of these churches have presided over so many failed marriages and may close one day,” Togarepi said.
Buhera South legislator Joseph Chinotimba (Zanu PF) argued that Africans had a problem of looking down upon themselves, resulting in the opinion that marriage officers must be educated people.
“The issue here is that because our chiefs are not educated, therefore, they cannot preside over civil marriages.
We should move away from the mindset that only those that are educated should be marriage officers,” Chinotimba said.
Ziyambi’s response was that not every pastor was a marriage officer, adding that one needs to satisfy certain requirements to be a marriage officer in terms of civil marriages.
“You must be aware that our marriages are recognised everywhere else. There are certain conditions that have to be satisfied before you can be a marriage officer for all marriages. There is nothing in the Bill that stops me from appointing anyone a marriage officer if they satisfy certain requirements,” Ziyambi said.
The Marriages Bill courted controversy on the issue of civil marriages after it was construed that it would allow “small houses” to have some recognition.